In vino veritas: Liquor store must leave N.Y.U. strip

Photo by Lincoln Anderson Clift Arden, a manager at Washington Square Wines and Liquors, said the new rent N.Y.U. is asking for the space is prohibitively high. N.Y.U., however, said the store is already way behind on its rent.

Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Clift Arden, a manager at Washington Square Wines and Liquors, said the new rent N.Y.U. is asking for the space is prohibitively high. N.Y.U., however, said the store is already way behind on its rent.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  After 40 years on LaGuardia Place, Washington Square Wines and Liquors will be closing for good at the end of this month.

Clift Arden, who has been a manager at the store since 1976, said his understanding is that New York University — the landlord of the strip of single-story retail stores on LaGuardia between W. Third and Bleecker Sts. — recently doubled the rent for the space, and that the store’s owners simply can’t afford it.

He said that at least three potential buyers of the store (who would essentially buy the place’s remaining stock of alcohol) were scared off from taking a potential seven-year lease because of a demolition clause under which N.Y.U. can evict the commercial tenant in six months.

“Who the hell is going to invest a half a million dollars in a space if they’re going to demolish in six months?” Arden asked incredulously, speaking early last Friday evening. Behind him, the store’s shelves were largely empty, as the place has been selling off what’s left.

The site is on the northern of the two N.Y.U.-owned South Village superblocks, on both of which the university plans a massive development project that would add around 2 million square feet of new space. The retail strip would be razed, though that might not happen for a while, since the northern superblock might not be redeveloped until 10 years from now.

On the other hand, N.Y.U. plans to start soon on rebuilding its Coles gym site on the southern block, replacing it with a far larger building, for now known only as the “Zipper Building.”

“Let’s all make sure that we vote for Chris Quinn. We know how behind the neighborhood she was,” said customer Wendy Nadler fatalistically, as she stopped in to buy a bottle of wine. “It’s over down here. What they never understood — this is a village of low buildings.”

Last year, the City Council approved N.Y.U.’s 2031 mega-development plan for the superblocks, which would shoehorn several new high-rise buildings onto the two blocks. Council Speaker Quinn and the local councilmember for the area, Margaret Chin, were the main deciders on the plan at the Council level.

Arden noted that another nearby space in the retail strip occupied for more than 20 years by Ennio & Michael’s Italian restaurant has been empty for more than two years now. Again, he said, no one is going to come in and fix up the space with a seven-year lease with a six-month demo clause.

Arden, who lives on the Bowery, said, “We used to think like nine out of 10 people didn’t like N.Y.U. in the neighborhood — now it’s 99 out of 100.”

However, Philip Lentz, an N.Y.U. spokesperson, said Arden didn’t have the story quite right.

Referring to the store’s corporate name, Lentz said, “The fate of the Wine Barrel is directly related to its inability to pay its monthly rent. The Wine Barrel’s last lease was negotiated in 2002. The rent at the Wine Barrel has not increased since the lease expired in March 2007, and its current rent is very favorable compared to its neighbors. The store has been behind on its rent since at least 2006.

“Because of the continuing arrearage, N.Y.U. has been unable to offer Wine Barrel a lease renewal, so the Wine Barrel has occupied its space on a month-to-month basis since 2007. As of today, the store owes N.Y.U. 15 months in back rent totaling more than $110,000. There are no immediate plans for eviction. The Wine Barrel can avoid eviction if it pays its past-due rent.”

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8 Responses to In vino veritas: Liquor store must leave N.Y.U. strip

  1. First, the Bottom Line. Then Ennio and Michael's. Now this liquor store. Soon the Morton-Williams.

    Is there any other neighborhood institution left that NYU's John Sexton isn't seeking to destroy in his ruthless land grab?
    This man is pure evil.

  2. same story as the Bottom Line – blame NYU for not paying your rent and for running a business no one frequents. talk about entitlement.

    • More to the story that meets the eye. For years and years everyone knows that allegedly in order to have a business in an NYU building you had to slips a "few" bucks to those in charge, and you always lived on fear that any change of administration would put you out on the street. And that is exactly what Sexton has done along with his henchman. If only sexton along with his henchman realized how important the bottom line and the small independent retailers are to not only the community but to NYU students maybe the bottom line would still exist. NYU's ONLY interest is as a real estate money. They are being given this city owned land for free and in return are planning on giving a few thousand squad feet back to the community at FAIR market rent. What a corrupt deal this was. If the city wasn't involved with the corruption one might think the attorney general would investigate this crooked deal… But alas we the tax payers, the voters, the community are simply not part of their calculations.

  3. More or less the same story as what NYU did to Ennio & Michael. Just other people's livelihoods ruined this time around. From what I understand, Washington Square Wines was offered a lease that was outrageously expensive, with a 6 month demolition clause. As the article says, they've been there since 1970. I know Diane Neski, Leonard and Clift well. These are the people — the familiar faces, yes, the friends — who make a neighborhood precisely that, a neighborhood. And not a bunch of building footprints amounting to this or that much square feet of real estate, earmarked for a temporary gym — or maybe another wasted, empty space, like the "NYU Open House" on LaGuardia or cavernous I.D. Card Center on Lafayette. There are, of course, some who simply don't get this — and, GetReal clearly among them, never will. Entitlement, my ass. These are people who put everything they had — their energy, their time, their sacrifices, in Diane's case her plans for affording her daughter's college tuition, in her managers' case, their hope for affordable health insurance — into their small store. For four decades. Their only mistake was doing business with the insatiable real estate octopus that NYU has now become.

  4. This wonderful city of our…the tax payers, the voters has been totally raped by NYU with the city government giving them the right to steal our city parks and open land. Not only were they backed by the city, the city doesn't even get fair market value for the tens or hundreds of million dollars of this valuable land. In return Margaret chin along with Christine Quinn negotiates a deal to alot a small portion of space to the community at get this fair market rate. In other words the community is supposed to be ok with giving NYU our public land and in return we get to pay NYU exorbitant rent. This was simply a behind the door deal to increase NYU real estate portfolio at the expanse of the citizens of the community. It has always been known that two rent a retail store from NYU one has to be be holding. You either do and give to NYU or you lose your lease if you even have one, that has been going on for 50 years or more. NYU is notorious for being a lousy landlord. The few rent stabilized tenants live in fear, former NYU staff who have apt under their contracts and the faculty are so intimidated by the giant real estate company of NYU that if they speak up they will not get tenure. And this is the kind of company that NYU Bloomberg and Quinn shake hands with. Our city abandoned their fiduciary duty by giving away our land for zilch. If it were reversed and someone working for Sexton or any corporation gave their prime land assets away they would not only be fired, they would be sued. But sexton and Bloomberg along with chin and Quinn have disregarded the public trust and are stealing our land. Simply outrageous, simply disgusting, simply not ethical, simply wrong

  5. NYU is as crooked a corporation as it goes. Between Jack Lew, the law suits being brought against NYU for illegally stealing city owned land, with the faculty uprise, with NYU's global campuses falling by the wayside one would think the Trustees would not want their reputations blemished along with NYU's. but the reality is the majority of the trustees are real estate moguls and that is their only interests. The parents who pay the tuition of their students are being mislead, NYU's interest in education is way down on the list.

  6. Remember when NYU wanted to believe that it was becoming an Ivy League-like school. They sure did abandon those plans in favor of the almighty green dollar. No surprises there. NYU education goes down in quality while NYU tuition and real estate goes up, up, and away.

  7. If people were clamoring for a fair market rate, maybe your arguments would hold water. However, all I see is a bunch of whiners, gaze firmly affixed to the past, unable to come to terms with the fact that neighborhoods change. Any dynamism that these neighborhoods used to have is long gone and trying to hold onto some "character", that at this point you are merely imagining, is just sad. The next great artists or cultural movements will not spring from the Village (or Williamsburg for that matter) because neither market-rate condos or securely rent-controlled apartments leave any space for the young, creative, vibrant, and/or hilariously poor. These neighborhoods are dead, trying to preserve their "character" is merely preserving the rotted husk of days long past.

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